At age 91, Ramón del Pino can’t see very well. A woman whose name he doesn’t remember filled out his absentee ballot and took it to deliver it to the post office. He doesn’t know whom he voted for in the upcoming Aug. 14 election.
Bernarda Sosa says she filled out her ballot and put it in her mailbox for the postman. Yet somehow the 91-year-old Hialeah widow’s ballot was found among those carried by the same woman who visited del Pino.
Terminally ill with a brain tumor, 81-year-old Zulema Gomez doesn’t speak and offers a blank stare to visitors at the Miami Springs nursing home where she has been for five months. She, too, “voted” absentee after a visitor filled out her ballot and scrawled in a misspelled note in Spanish: “This lady is my sister. I sign like this because she has arthritis and she has difficulty signing. Thank you.” Both of Gomez’s sisters say they never touched the ballot, though one admitted the same woman helped her fill out hers.
All three suspect ballots are among the 31 that authorities have traced to one Deisy Penton de Cabrera, boletera extraordinaire in Hialeah circles. On Thursday, Cabrera, 56, was charged with absentee-ballot fraud, a third-degree felony, involving the signature on Gomez’s ballot, and two misdemeanor counts of violating a county ordinance that makes it illegal for anyone to have more than two ballots belonging to other voters.
Is anyone surprised? For decades absentee-ballot fraud has been a perennial problem, one that has become worse as relaxed state laws have encouraged the use of such ballots in elections.
While Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-led Legislature focus on “illegal” votes by non-citizens and on limiting the time the polls will be open for early voting, the true nature of fraud in Florida rests with elderly “super voters” — most of them in South Florida registered Republicans — who are visited at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, community centers, comedores and even their homes by campaign “volunteers” to “assist” them in getting their ballots to the mail. Such volunteers are nothing more than paid ballot runners too often abusing the law.
With nine days left for the primary election, two ethical public servants are now enmeshed in this latest absentee-ballot fraud scandal.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez was being interviewed by The Herald’s editorial board on July 26 when the news first broke of suspect ballots. He seemed genuinely surprised, upset and angry that such tactics would be employed, and by last weekend he had called in all his campaign consultants and demanded to know what they knew. They all signed affidavits saying they were not involved, including consultant Al Lorenzo, who also is working for State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle’s campaign.
On Thursday, after Cabrera was charged, Fernandez Rundle announced she was recusing herself from the case to avoid any potential conflict of interest with an unnamed person who may be linked to both Cabrera and her campaign. Whether that person is Lorenzo is still not known. He did not return my call to his cell phone on Friday.
“Unsubstantiated allegations have recently been brought to my attention that a person who has been assisting in my campaign was alleged to have been seen in the company of this defendant,” Fernandez Rundle said in a statement. “I am therefore taking this action to avoid even the possibility that my pending election will cause any distraction to the prosecution of this case.”